Page 10


A loud cheer goes up from a considerable crowd of about twenty people surrounding the craps table. I take them all in. Men in expensive tuxedos—at least I’m dressed for the part—each with a woman on their arm. Most are in long expensive gowns flashing diamonds.
Except one.
I have to chuckle at her. My Grace is wearing a knee-length dark blue dress that is probably part of her everyday work attire. She has no diamonds, her hair is out of place, and her cheeks are ruddy with excitement as another cheer goes up.
A tall middle-aged Asian man with striking green eyes leans down into her neck to whisper and she throws her head back and laughs again.
Clearly she is not torn up about my bad news today.
Green-eyes notices me and gives me a nod to signify this is his room and I’m here as his guest. I nod back and he calls out. "Mr. Asher, I’m honored."
Grace practically gives herself whiplash trying to find me, and I admit, that gives me a little thrill. "What’s he doing here?" she whispers. But she’s looking right at me, so it’s not hard to read her lips.
"Come, Mr. Asher. My good-luck charm is still hot." He nods to Grace, ignoring her question about me.
I walk over to the table and begin greeting other people. They nod and shake my hand as I put on my polite public persona. I take up shooter residence, opposite of the Asian man. But my eyes are only on Grace as I try to assess her state of mind.
Stunning. Check.
Even though her dress is not a designer gown and her neck is bare of flashing jewels, she is the star of this room. Her hair is piled up on top of her head in a way I’ve never seen before and it allows me to stare at the sweeping line of her neck. The strap of her black bra is showing and even though I’d love to see more of that, I don’t like the fact that every man in the room is probably thinking the same thing.
Drunk. Check.
Her cheeks are flushed, and not just from the winning. Her eyes are a bit glassy, enough to have me worried. And once I look closer, they are puffy and red. She’s been crying. She’s leaning into the Asian man, who is way too old for her, steadying herself so she doesn’t teeter.
Angry. Check.
Her forehead is a field of furrows as she purses her lips and squints her eyes. Just seconds before, her face was relaxed and excited. But now the hurt I’ve caused her today is coming through loud and clear.
"Grace," I say in a soft, gentle voice to let her know I’m not here to start trouble. "You look beautiful."
She smiles up at her date and ignores me.
"I’m Damian Li," the Asian man says, his green eyes brilliant and his smile genuine. "Welcome to my suite. Do you know my date tonight?" He looks down on Grace and she continues to beam a smile at him.
"Intimately, actually," I tell him back with a straight face. Might as well get this out in the open. "I’m here to win. Shall we?"
Li doesn’t even flinch.
"Place your bets!" the dealer cries.
My dealer places my three hundred thousand dollars’ worth of high-value plaques on the apron in front of me. Li places the equivalent of fifty thousand dollars on the Pass Line and I match him by pushing my chips into the Don’t Pass Line with a smile. The other players make their bets, but I don’t pay any attention to them or the amount of money flowing in here. Li’s hand is on Grace’s hip.
I see red, but I take a deep breath. Wrong time, wrong place.
The dealers flips the puck to white and the game is on. Li picks up his dice, jiggles them in his hand, and then with a flat palm offers them to Grace. She leans in and kisses them. I zero in on her lips, fuming when they touch Li’s skin. When I look back up to his face, he’s smug. "Good luck from the lady," he says loudly.
Everyone cheers.
"You bet against her, Mr. Asher," he says, nodding down to my Don’t Pass Line bet.
"I always bet the House first time out, Mr. Li."
He throws the dice and rolls a seven. The whole room erupts in cheers. Except for me. Because I lost.
"Ha," Grace says in a voice pitched too high, "loser! That’s what you get for betting against me."
I smile at her as I push another fifty thousand dollars into the Don’t Pass Line. Li doubles his money and holds out his palm for Grace to kiss. This time she looks me right in the eye, takes his hand in hers, stroking her thumb up and down the length of his fingers, and then leans in and touches her lips to his skin once again.
I fume. Anger manifests as heat and pulsates through my entire body. "Grace," I growl, but at the same time Li throws the dice and rolls snake eyes. Everyone but me lets out a collective groan. My chips double and I’ve made my money back.
"Shall we raise the stakes a little, Mr. Asher?" Li asks me, his grin a little too wide. "And move over to baccarat? Minimum bet of fifty thousand?"
"I’m in," I say as his hand rubs against Grace’s hip once again. She leans into him and I have a brief second of panic that maybe they really know each other. Maybe she’s dating this guy. I’ve left her alone for two weeks, Ray can’t know everything about her. It’s possible she had plans to meet him here.
"With a private non-monetary wager as well. My date for tonight."
"What?" Grace squeals. "You can’t bet me!"
"She’s not a piece of property, Mr. Li."
"No, Mr. Asher," he says back evenly. "She’s not. So stop treating her like a gold watch."
"I didn’t buy my way into this game to retrieve a gold watch, Mr. Li. I told you, I’m here to win."
"Win back the girl?" he asks with a lightness in his voice that really pisses me off. "Too late for that." He pulls Grace in close, his large hand across her hip. "She’s mine and I’m not ready to give her up just yet."
"Oh, I assure you, Mr. Li. Grace Kinsella is not yours." I smile and a small laugh even comes forth. "She’s mine in every way imaginable."
"Holy shit, you’re both a couple of ass**le cavemen!" Grace says too loudly, sipping on a glass of champagne that has materialized in her hand while Li and I have this pissing contest. "I don’t belong to anybody but me!" And then she storms off, handing her champagne to a waiter as she makes for the door.
A few of the women in the room cheer her on, but their partners quickly divert them to another game and a few seconds later Li and I are staring each other down from opposite ends of the table.